Monday, December 4, 2006

Let's Go Back to Shinjuku... Again!

Two years ago I had what was probably my most fun excursion to Tokyo, so much fun I began repeating it on a semi-montly basis, blowing all my hard earned Nova cash.

This is a group of photos I took on January 3rd, 2005. I think. I was in Tokyo from December 30th through that day, but these could've been just as easily taken on the 2nd because I was snapping photos each day, all day.

The point is... it's Shinjuku! Mostly Kabuki-cho.

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This photo is a side alley not far from my hotel, right in the heart of Kabuki-cho. There's a girl there! Check that out! That's a popular style in Japan, the miniskirt/tall boots combo, especially in winter. One of my friends here likes to say, "As the weather gets colder, the skirts get shorter."

Not really my favorite look because I tend to like the funkier type gals. I think she's talking on a cellphone, so let's give her some privacy.

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Cafe Aya, an internet cafe with comfy vinyl seats. I emailed from there a couple of times... in fact, if you ever received an email from me while I was in Tokyo, it was from this place or else Narita Airport (which is really in Chiba).

The staff are fairly friendly. It's upstairs from a food cafe, so you can drink some coffee and relax before you go upstairs and start watching kids rack their nuts while skateboarding on and

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This is a dvd shop in Kabuki-cho. Actually, there are a few around, small and packed with electronic goodies. This one has a strange Indian theme, but to be honest, I haven't been in it so I have no idea if the owners are Indian or Japanese or Korean or what. These places kind of creep me out because they'll have the latest releases but you can't be sure if they're legit or pirated, and then they'll have porn stuff that makes you feel all dirty just to glance at while passing by on your way to... a hostess bar or porn shop.

Which is what Kabuki-cho is really all about. Soapland and all that crazy stuff. During the day, it's a little weird and seedy enough to make it fun to spend time in, but at night it comes alive with throngs of drunk people looking for love.

Or the physical approximation of it.

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Real food? No, my friend... it's plastic so stop eating it before you make yourself sick! A commonplace sight in Japan, as most restaurants have glass cases or window displays full of incredibly detailed and realistic fake food. Supposedly, there's even a district in Tokyo where you can see where the restaurants buy this stuff.

I like this one because of the little snowman. It was a day not long after Christmas so the decorations were still up everywhere and it gave even the sordid neon byways of Kabuki-cho a festive, seasonal feel. A smutty Disneyland.

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This is the Shinjuku skyscraper district seen from near the station, at the corner of Kabuki-cho and Yasukuni-dori.

Surprisingly, Tokyo doesn't have a lot of really massive skyscrapers, like you'll find in New York or Chicago or Hong Kong. They're around, but since Japan has so many earthquakes, it pays not to build too vertically. So only in recent years has Tokyo begun to develop an actual skyline.

When you approach Tokyo via shinkansen, you'll see miles and miles of relatively small buildings and houses. They stretch out from mountain to sea, but there's nothing remarkable beyond the urban sprawlingness of it. The horizontal scale, I guess.

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Look what's behind Studio Alta! Set a course for adventure, my friends, your minds on a new romance. I have no idea what this place is; I didn't go in. But I had to photograph it for obvious reasons.

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What's a neighborhood without a mom and pop supermarket? This is an open-air corner market near the station. Lots of fruits and vegetables. They sell farm produce too! I'm here all week, folks. Doing a 3-night stand at the Desert Resort in Palm Springs April 3,4 and 5!

The prices at this place weren't too outrageous. You'd be surprised. Everyone says Japan is ridiculously expensive but that's only for certain things. Like watermelon, which can cost around 30 to 40 bucks. Not like here in Georgia where during the summer there's always a dude selling them from the back of his pick-up for $5.

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Speaking of Studio Alta, there was a New Year's sales event going on this day. Around New Year's a lot of stores put on bargain extravaganzas and offer "mystery bags" for sale, where you might get something awesome or something disappointing.

That's what's happening in this photo. If you look to the right, you'll see a couple of loli-goth girls. Gothi-loli, loli-gothi. They're girls who wear doll-like fashions with lots of petticoats and lace. There's a gothic music scene that goes along with it- they don't dress like that all the time, just for special shopping trips or live shows.

One girl is the more traditional black and white loli-goth and the other favors prints.

To me, as a relative newcomer here, it's still exciting to spot them in a crowd. You'll notice how everyone else in the picture, dressed normally, could care less.

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If you look to the far left, you'll see one of the gothiloli girls going inside. The one in black with the white lace trim. A lot of girls were playing games for discount coupons and trying out make-up. It had the air of a small street festival.

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And speaking of make-up... this dude in white was wearing a ton of it, eye shadow, lipstick and everything. He had on more make-up than the model next to him. And she was gorgeous, but she's dressed and looks similar to maybe 10,000 girls in Hamamatsu and probably over a million there in Tokyo. This fun duo was putting on some sort of medicine show type presentation, adding to the fun fest surrounding Studio Alta. You can sort of tell in this photo they were exposed to a bitter, blasting wind... probably from Siberia, blasting down from the mountainous spine running down the center of Honshu.

At one point, their notes went flying and a few helpful people caught them and brought them back.

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This is one of the views from the train. I'm not sure if this was on the Yamanote Line heading to Tokyo Station so I could hop the shinkansen, or from the shinkansen itself heading out from Tokyo. There are so many districts I still need to explore!

I'm really looking forward to this year's vacation...

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Look how deserted the streets are. This was around 11am. New Year's is a big family-oriented holiday in Japan, similar to Christmas here. Most businesses are closed, so there's not a lot of traffic.

You can also see that none of these buildings are monstrously huge.

The shopping districts, like Akihabara, Shibuya and Harajuku are thronged around this time, though. People with time off like to go places and spend money no matter what country you're in.

But sometimes you see these strange, peaceful vistas, a couple of cars here or there to give it movement and make you realize you're not gazing at the end of the world. As a gaijin they made me feel pleasantly lonely and adrift, especially after all the excitement of Shibuya and Shinjuku the previous 4 nights.

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